HILLSBOROUGH — The mother of Alvaro Castillo says her husband was not abusive, as her son claims in the video on which he confesses to killing his father.
Victoria Castillo spoke through a neighbor who is helping the family as they prepare weekend funeral arrangements for Rafael Huezo Castillo.
"I asked Vicki, 'Did he abuse y'all?' " said Tim Fluet, who lives on a four-home gravel road near the Castillo family in Hillsborough. "She said no."
But Victoria Castillo said her husband, who was a night janitor at Oak Grove Elementary School in Durham, was "very demanding verbally" and spanked the children "sometimes," Fluet said.
On Wednesday, Alvaro Castillo, 19, was charged with a shooting at Orange High School.
He told sheriff's deputies he had killed his father, and they found the body that afternoon on the couch at the family's home, 230 Lipps Lane.
Castillo is being held in Raleigh's Central Prison after being charged with first-degree murder and at least 10 other charges stemming from the school shooting, in which two students suffered minor injuries.
Just before the 2005 Orange High graduate returned to his old school with a rifle and sawed-off shotgun Wednesday, he mailed a videotape and handwritten letter to The Chapel Hill News, explaining why he killed his father.
"His threats and abuse took their toll on me," he says on the tape, which shows a sheet-draped body slumped on the couch.
Fluet accompanied the Castillo family to court Thursday for Alvaro's first appearance and spoke to the press afterward. In a phone interview Friday he said he and his wife have been close to the Castillos since they moved to the area five years ago. They talked often because the Castillos have to drive past his house to get to theirs at the end of the road.
"People honestly hated to see [Rafael] coming sometimes because you knew you were going to be tied up for a while talking," Fluet said.
Fluet said he never detected abuse in the family.
"Honestly, knowing Mr. Castillo and just being with him, I don't believe it," he said. "I came from an abusive home. I know what abuse is."
A former employer also spoke highly of Rafael Castillo, who Fluet said was from El Salvador.
Southwest Elementary School Principal Ari Cohen said he was hardworking and friendly during the three years he cleaned his Durham school before transferring this summer to Oak Grove.
"He was an evening custodian so he didn't have a lot of interaction with staff, but when he did he had friendly conversations," Cohen said. "He was outgoing and enjoyed talking with staff."
A shy, nice guy
On Friday, Alvaro Castillo's former high school classmates described him as a shy, nice guy.
"He was really quiet," said Gwen Bellinger, an Orange High junior who remembered meeting Castillo at a history club picnic her freshman year.
"People who did know him are shocked and kind of confused," she said.
Amanda Long graduated with Castillo in 2005 and shared Spanish and chemistry classes with him their senior year. Long remembered Castillo often wore shorts and a wind breaker. He'd sit in the back of class quietly, his hands folded on top of his desk, she said. Castillo helped her in both classes since he was good at them.
Long said she didn't remember Castillo ever having a girlfriend, but their Spanish teacher tried to set them up for prom. Long already had a date.
But Castillo's MySpace.com site hints of troubled thoughts.
"Al," as he is called by friends, lists handguns, shotguns and rifles among his general interests.
He also likes cooking, cleaning, singing and target practice.
Myspace.com is a popular Internet site where young people create their own Web sites and post personal information, such as favorite movies, music, books and heroes. Sometimes they blog and upload photos.
Among Castillo's "pics" is a photo of him holding a pair of scissors and acting as if he is going to stab an unidentified young man in the head. "Attempted Murder," the caption reads. "Are you scared? Ha ha."
At the top of Castillo's list of heroes are God, his mom, his dad, and his younger sister Victoria. Castillo also mentions who he would like to meet one day, including John Hinckley Jr., Tom Hanks, Michael Moore and God.
Hinckley shot President Reagan in 1981, and Moore directed "Bowling for Columbine," a documentary about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and other acts of gun violence.
Castillo's MySpace site has comments posted from his friends, including his sister, Victoria, who graduated from Orange High in June. They along with their mother are enrolled at Durham Technical College.
Most of his sister's posts are pleading with her brother to write her back.
"Dude whats kicking? Feeling good today? You better leave me a comment NOW or I'll be mad at you for a large amount of time. Ha ha. Bye," she wrote Jan. 9.
Her most recent comment was posted Aug. 20. "hey Al, it's me. What are you up to?"
This week, Victoria's MySpace page was filling with messages from friends offering condolences.
"Victoria, my best friend. I love you with all my heart and hate that you have to go through all this," one friend wrote Thursday. "I can't believe it i'm still in shock. i'm going to come see you today. You KNOW you can always call me anytime of the night i'm going to be here for you. You're a beautiful woman stay strong."
"Victoria, I love you so much. I am praying for you and the family. I will always be here for you no matter what!" wrote high school friend Josh Walker.
In a phone interview, Walker, 18, said he had a class with Castillo and was shocked by this week's incidents. "I knew him as a nice person," he said. "He was so well mannered ... and so friendly. Everyone liked him."
Walker never met Victoria's dad, though he had met her mom.
"I never heard anything bad," he said. "I love her mother. I love them all. They are really good people."
(News researcher Teresa Leonard contributed to this story.)
Staff writer Leah Friedman can be reached at 932-2002 or firstname.lastname@example.org.